An In Depth Look at “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

If you are a lover of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, I know you were fascinated by the queens Jabber-baby-wocky. Lewis Carroll has a poem all about the Jabberwocky.

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It can’t just be me who was overly obsessed with Alice in Wonderland as a child. I would race home from school, pop the DVD into the player and beg my sisters to watch it with me. This went on for quite a while. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the words they spoke and how everything felt like it could be possible. The best news ever was when I learned it was all contained in a book. The next best news was learning Lewis Carroll had dedicated a whole poem to the infamous Jabberwocky.

In the Wonderland universe, the Jabberwocky is depicted as a dragon-like beast. In the film, he is actually able to talk and communicate with Alice. This poem was written for Alice to find as she reads it in Wonderland through a mirror.

“Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

Image via “Jabberwocky” Wikipedia

Here is “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll. Be patient reading as it is just as chaotic as the Mad Hatter.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

(Poem via Poetry Foundation)

Now try to read that aloud ten times fast.

What I Love Most

When I first read this poem I had absolutely no idea what was going on. That is thanks to Carroll’s use of made-up nonsensical words.

What I love so much about his writing is that so much of it is made up, you really have to follow. You have to pay attention and context clues with you as you read so it all ends up making sense. For example, I know what a “Bandersnatch” is because I have read the novels and seen the film adaptations. If you are a stranger to Carroll and pick up this poem out of the blue, you are going to have no idea what a “Bandersnatch” is. This makes Carroll’s work like a scavenger hunt.

So What Does Any of This Mean?

At its core, this poem is about good versus evil. It tells the story of a young man slaying the Jabberwocky and coming home to his family in triumph. But does this really rid all evil?

The first stanza:

The first stanza lets us know that the poem will follow an ABAB rhyming pattern and iambic tetrameter. These two techniques together create the style of a lyrical ballad. A ballad tells a story of love or adventure through poetry. Even though we may struggle to understand some of the words Carroll uses, the structure and intent are clear to us.

We are also greeted by Carroll’s nonsensical language immediately. Though we are going into the poem blind to some of the word’s context clues within the article, and as I said, prior knowledge, help piece the poem together.

The second stanza:

In the second stanza we are introduced to the “Jabberwocky”, “Jubjub bird”, and “Bandersnatch”; all animals that do not exist in our world. Carroll gives us minimal descriptions of the animals but through the repetition of the word “Beware” we can deduce that they are dangerous.

There is so much energy in the poem. It flows like a song and I can’t help but read the poem with the same energy dictated through the punctuation.

The ending:

In the last two stanzas, there is joy from the hero’s father who is happy about the victory, but there is also the possible return of evil. If you notice, the first and last stanzas are identical; this is certainly done intentionally. Though there has been a great victory within the bookends of the poem, it doesn’t change the evil that is “mimsy” and “outgrabe”.

The joy gained from this poem is being able to piece it together through its poetic techniques and context clues beneath all of the nonsense. There is silliness, but there is also intent.

To read Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and more of his poetry click here to purchase Jabberwocky and Other Nonsense: Collected Poems.

Click here to read more about other characters in Wonderland from us here at Bookstr!